Annamaria on Monday
Well, not according to the Netflix miniseries Medici Masters of Florence.
This is an English production. And whenever the English tell stories about Italians, they can’t help making the really important people in the story…well, English. And, I am sorry to say, letting their prejudices leak into the other portrayals.
But before I get into all that. Let me talk about why I have stuck with this series through all eight episodes. First and foremost: the art direction. The settings are superlative. (I am only days away from arriving in Florence, but still, the backgrounds in this series make me deliriously homesick to be there again.) The Brits are really great at this sort of thing in historical productions. And here they have the cities of Florence, Venice, and Rome and the Tuscan countryside to work with. Point a camera anywhere and shoot in those locations and you could convince yourself that you have extraordinary talent as a photographer. The backgrounds of the shots are not always authentic, but they almost always seem that way. The buildings and the tapestries and paintings on the walls are drop-dead gorgeous. The computer-generated images of, say the dome of the Duomo of Firenze under construction, are pretty convincing. I do wish, when they mocked up the façade of the Palazzo della Signoria, that they had not decided to make it look new. I understand why they did it, but they managed to make it look fake.
Speaking of fake, let’s get down to brass tacks. I am here to castigate the casting. With only one exception, all of the important (read upperclass) people in the story speak English with BBC accents. The Medici men, their wives, their powerful allies and adversaries, the Pope, the Doge of Venice all sound like Lawrence Olivier in Richard III. All except for Giovanni, the founder of the power-clan of Florence. The real Giovanni came from humbler beginnings, so, given English snob attitudes, he is not worthy to sound like a proper Englishman. Dustin Hoffman plays this role, sounding—to snob ears—“appropriately underclass” with his New Yorkish American. He also looks decidedly unpatrician compared to his elegant and in this production, devastatingly handsome offspring. His wife is allowed to be haut-English, which I imagine accounts for the about-face in his bloodlines.
People who do things no English gentlemen would consider doing, like keeping a shop, laying bricks, or otherwise working for a living, they are all English, but have cockney or Midlands accents. Moving down the social strata, we come to the serving men and concubines. These males, IF they are evil, sneaky, and double-dealing, they speak English with Italian accents. The sexpots of the servant class also all speak English with Italian accents. And they all have red hair; I leave it to you to figure out why that is. To complete the dastardly stereotyping, people who sweep up and carry heavy stuff for a living they speak bad English with thick Italian accents.
The other super-obvious clue that these Medici were not Italian is that none of them seems to know how to pronounce their own names. Medici is MED-di-chee. NOT med-DEE-chee. Albizzi is al-BEE-tzee. NOT AL-bee-zee. Pazzi is PAH-tzee, for god’s sake. Not Patsy.
On top of which, they don’t know how to bless themselves. This is a gesture every Italian Catholic learns by they time he or she is three years old. In Medici Masters of Florence, not even the Pope does it right.
I will not go on except to mention that the first episode jumps back and forth in time, making it incomprehensible. Knowing the actual history is of no help in following the story. I eventually discovered the clue to help viewers make a modicum of sense of Episode One. Watch Cosimo’s hair: it’s longer when he is supposed to look young, and shorter when he is supposed to look older. Oh and if you do decide to watch (the scenery really is worth it), try not to notice that though they are married to the richest men in Florence, the Medici women share only one lipstick, or maybe they all just favored the same shade. It will take some effort, but also try not to let it register that acting in this context consists of showing off how gorgeous your eyes are.
Oh, I almost forgot. The sex scenes. They are not Italian either. Having never had a love affair with an Englishman, I can’t reliably blame this on Englishness. But the sex is boring. No seduction, no foreplay, no fun. When making love, they all seem to start in the middle. And then end very quickly.